FROM THE ARCHIVE

Opposition to trust fund bill mounts

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MONDAY, JULY 15, 2002

Indian Country advocates in the House on Friday moved to defeat legislation that would limit the federal government's responsibilities to 500,000 trust fund account holders.

In a letter, the co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus announced their "strong opposition" to provisions within the Department of Interior's budget bill. Reps. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) and Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) said certain funding restrictions interfere with an historical accounting owed to beneficiaries of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust.

"[T]hese provisions only serve to undermine existing federal law requiring a full accounting of all trust funds and a federal court decision requiring an accounting of all funds regardless of the date deposited," the lawmakers wrote.

The objections of the leaders of the caucus, a bipartisan group representing nearly 100 lawmakers, add to growing criticism of the funding proposal. Last week, the plaintiffs in the IIM class action -- a lawsuit seeking an accounting of the funds -- blasted the bill as an "unprecedented" attempt to cover-up fiscal irresponsibility.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) also was concerned about the legislation. The largest inter-tribal organization said the bill, if enacted, would fail to correct for "clear losses" in the IIM trust, whose mismanagement dates to its inception in 1887.

A judicial investigator in the Cobell v. Norton case supported the concerns of the lawmakers, the Indian beneficiaries and the tribes. In a report released Thursday, court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III said the bill would effectively rewrite a 1994 trust reform law without any debate.

"This would be the result regardless of what the hundred-year history of the [government's] misfeasance and malfeasance regarding the management of those and other accounts might reveal," Kieffer wrote.

The Hayworth-Kildee challenge seeks to strike the controversial provisions through legislative procedures. The two lawmakers asked House rulemakers not to "protect" the bill so they could redirect debate to the House Resources Committee, the panel with jurisdiction over Indian issues.

Hayworth and Kildee sit on the committee, along with members of both political parties who have openly supported the Cobell lawsuit.

Members of the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee, on the other hand, have been hostile in recent months to the costly and bitter litigation. It was this group of lawmakers, led by retiring Rep. Joe Skeen (R-N.M.) and ranking member Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), that approved the funding provisions in question.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the Interior's fiscal year 2003 bill, H.R.5093, last Tuesday. The accompanying report has not been filed but the Cobell plaintiffs released relevant portions of it last week.

The Senate version of the bill, S.2708, doesn't contain the trust fund language.

Both chambers are set to consider the $19.7 billion spending bill in the upcoming weeks.

Relevant Documents:
Hayworth-Kildee Letter (7/12) | 8th Court Monitor Report (7/11) | House Committee Report (7/9) | Senate Committee Report (6/27)

Relevant Bills:
H.R.5093 | S.2708

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://www.ncai.org/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

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Court monitor releases new report (7/11)
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Tribes express doubts on trust reform (7/11)
Norton delivers accounting plan (7/5)
Cobell kicks off Indian Country tour (7/3)
Trust fund monitor defended (7/2)
Historical accounting plan delayed (7/2)
Norton's accounting funds limited (6/28)
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